Towards the end of his conversation with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Kobe Bryant gave quote that just about summed the former Los Angeles Lakers star’s thoughts on what it takes to be great while talking about coaching his daughter’s basketball team.
“We work really hard. It’s simple. A lot of their friends and other parents are like ‘That’s too much,” Bryant said. “But my daughter wants to play basketball, and practicing two or three times a week isn’t going to get you there. Those aren’t normal goals, so you can’t expect people to really understand that.
“If you want to get to that level, you have to train at a certain level. You want normal results, then be a normal kid ... There’s no other way around that. I wish there was a magic...” Bryant continued, trailing off before thinking better of what he was about to say.
“Actually, I don’t wish there was a magic wand because I love the process of it all. The grind.”
Bryant’s thoughts on “the grind” were the theme of his talk with Saban, in which two men who are among the greatest ever in their chosen fields volleyed colloquialisms on greatness back and forth.
The whole thing could have been cliche, and some of it was what you’d expect, the type of old-man-yelling-at-cloud quotes questioning the work ethic of younger generations.
However, it was also a fascinating window into Bryant’s psyche, and the differences in thought process of someone with a brain that can’t compute the idea that working non-stop to be the greatest you can be isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.
At one point in the conversation, Bryant asked Saban when he normally starts preparing for the next season he’s going to coach, to which Saban replied “Well, most of the time before I get back to the hotel after the game.”
Bryant laughed at this, saying “I didn’t expect anything less.”
As the two continued, though, Saban opened up about how that type of endless work mindset drives some players away, as their friends, family or advisors tell them “if you go there (to Alabama), you won’t have any fun.’”
Bryant laughed at that too.
”I gotta laugh at that,” Bryant said. “That’s so funny. That’s such like an average thing to say. Like what the hell does that even mean? To have fun?”
Questioning what it even means to have fun was Bryant spouting peak Kobe-isms, the idea his marketing and comments have always sold that he’s above such trivial pursuits. That if the grind isn’t fun to you, that you’re the one who has something wrong with them.
“Being excellent is fun. A good friend of mine is Nadia Comaneci,” Bryant said of the gymnast who he once went to go watch in Olympic trials. “I asked her just out of the blue because I kept hearing people say this about her ‘Oh she missed her childhood’ and all sorts of stuff, and I said ‘How do you feel about that?’
Comaneci’s answer resonated with Bryant, and the excitement he voiced it with upon recollection reveals it’s probably a worldview he ascribes to as well.
“She goes ‘I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I learned how to be the best in the world, and I traveled the world and saw some amazing places. Most of my friends were children doing what? Hanging out at the mall and shopping? What’s fun about that? I’m the best in the world! That’s fun to me!’” Bryant recalled Comaneci saying. “So it drives me crazy to hear people say stuff like that. It just makes no sense.”
It’s become a cliche that people have used to alternately mock and mythologize Bryant, but he seems to genuinely believe in this “winning is the only fun” worldview. It’s obviously not for everyone, but he seems to have actual conviction in the Psalms of Kobe, and when he speaks on them, the wisdom he’s trying to impart comes across as more than just the marketing slogans, Nike t-shirts or coaching platitudes his words will later be turned into.
Bryant truly believes in this stuff, and it’s why he espouses it to his own kids — even if other parents can’t comprehend it — because for Bryant, he can’t comprehend anything else.
“My kids, we talk a lot about just teaching excellence. Because it translates, right? Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, whatever it is, once you learn what excellence looks like, you can translate that into any field,” Bryant said.
“It’s basketball? You translate that into writing,” Bryant continued, using his own career path from NBA champion to Oscar-winning filmmaker as an example. “Once you have what that excellence looks like and what that detail and attention to detail looks like, you have a foundation that you can build anything on top of.”
All quotes transcribed via Vimeo. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.